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Dig Howitt – The Future of Cochlear Implants

 In Podcast
Dig Howitt

Dig Howitt is the CEO and President of Cochlear, a leading company in implantable hearing devices. Dig has been serving the company since 2000 in a variety of roles, including Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Manufacturing and Logistics. Under his direction, Cochlear has expanded its reach and now serves the hearing needs of over 190 countries.

Before joining Cochlear, Dig was the Non-Executive Director of Organic Response. He is a member of the Male Champions of Change STEM Group.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Dig Howitt of Cochlear explains how he got his unique name
  • Changing careers from engineering to hearing technology
  • The biggest advances in cochlear implants over the past 20 years
  • How can people increase awareness and access to cochlear implants?
  • The challenges Cochlear faces in different international markets 
  • What does the future of cochlear implants look like?
  • Dig talks about the lack of treatment for hearing loss

In this episode…

The world of audiology is quickly expanding internationally. For some, proper hearing is seen as a luxury — but now, hearing loss is finally being treated through better treatment and healthcare. Few groups are leading the charge like Cochlear.

Cochlear is an international business with a consumer base in almost 200 countries. They are passionate about increasing awareness and access to cochlear implants. Their team and outreach have grown exponentially over the past 20 years, in great part due to Dig Howitt. So where do they plan on going from here?

Dr. Mark Syms hosts Dig Howitt, President and CEO of Cochlear, to hear his thoughts on the future of cochlear implants. The two go over the progress made so far and where they see possible advancements on the horizon. Dig then takes us through his storied career, the different marketplaces around the globe, and how to raise awareness for hearing loss treatment. Hear all this and more on this episode of the ListenUp! podcast.

Resources mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by the Arizona Hearing Center.

The Arizona Hearing Center is a cutting-edge hearing care facility providing comprehensive, family-focused care. Approximately 36 million Americans suffer from some sort of hearing loss, more than half of whom are younger than the age of 65. That’s why the team at the Arizona Hearing Center is focused on providing the highest-quality care using innovative technologies and inclusive treatment plans. 

As the Founder of the Arizona Hearing Center, Dr. Mark Syms is passionate about helping patients effectively treat their hearing loss so that they can stay connected with their family and friends and remain independent. He knows first-hand how hearing loss can impact social connection and effective communication. By relying on three core values—empathy, education, and excellence—Dr. Syms and his team of hearing loss experts are transforming the lives of patients. 

So what are you waiting for? Stop missing out on the conversation and start improving your quality of life today!  

To learn more about the Arizona Hearing Center, visit or call us at 602-307-9919. We don’t sell hearing aids—we treat your hearing loss.

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:04  

Welcome to the ListenUp! podcast where we explore hearing loss communication connections and health.

Dr. Mark Syms  0:10  

Hey everybody Dr. Mark Syms here I’m the host of the ListenUp! podcast I feature top leaders in healthcare. This episode is brought to you by Arizona Hearing Center. at Arizona Hearing Center, I help people to effectively treat their hearing loss remain independent and connected with their loved one. The reason I’m so passionate about hearing loss is I lost my brother Robbie twice, first from hearing loss from hearing loss from radiation to his brain tumor, and then again later from complications from that tumor. I am an ear, nose and throat doctor who only takes care of yours on the E of ENT. I’ve taken care of pence about over 10,000 people with surgical interventions and 10s of 1000s of people with hearing loss. I’m passionate about getting them to hear better. I’ve written a book called Listen Up: A Physician’s Guide to Hearing Loss you can see that book or learn more about it at and you can learn more about my practice at Today. I’m really excited. I have a great guest it’s Dig Howitt is the CEO of Cochlear Corporation. He got his MBA from Stanford, and he did an engineering group degree at University of Sydney. He was became the president and CEO of Cochlear in 2008. He has been in that position since and that business has been doing great. We’re here to talk to him about hearing loss and cochlear implants. Big thanks for coming on the episode.

Dig Howitt  1:27  

Mark is terrific to be here. Join us today.

Dr. Mark Syms  1:30  

Thanks. So he’s coming in from Sydney. They’re in lockdown right now, unfortunately, from COVID hopefully clears and by the time you’re watching this episode, that’s all good. Dig, I got to ask you, I told you this question I was gonna ask you. Tell me about the name Dig. I mean, I actually googled it. I don’t think it’s a common name like in the common dictionary. So what’s the origin of your name game? That way? I love that name.

Dig Howitt  1:51  

Thank you. Thank you. That’s not a common name at all, essentially short for Diggory, which is d i g g o r y. Naturally gets shortened to Dig as Gregory gets to Greg, and the origin of Diggory and answered, my parents found in a name book, as they were before I was born searching for a name to me. And it’s there’s two potential origins of it. One is old English. After the supposedly after a medieval hero, the other one is old French, from a word that means straight or lost. So we’ve got two quite different alternatives.

Dr. Mark Syms  2:33  

Hopefully great, more than last. Name. I mean, it’s so it’s it’s funny, right? Because the answers they saw in an unnamed book and they liked it is what you’re telling me, which is just as good a reason as anything, right? If you’re going to get better like the name. So that’s a great story. So you know, I know you’re in the hearing loss space. You’ve been in it for over 20 years. It’s a great space. Tell me how you went from engineering? You told me you started at Boston Consulting Group. And then I know you got an MBA at Stanford, how did you end up in the hearing space?

Dig Howitt  3:04  

Yeah, it’s certainly wasn’t ever a plan journey. But it’s worked out remarkably well. So I did do electrical engineering. And I always was interested in business, and I liked engineering and products. When I left university, I really didn’t then want to go into the energy engineering jobs in Australia at that time, weren’t particularly attractive, the ones I could see. So I went, I went to Boston Consulting Group to learn more about business. I didn’t really know anything about business, but I thought it sounded interesting. And so I went to BCG. I did that for about four years. And I did find it really interesting. I learned a lot of work across a whole range of industries as a junior analyst. And then saw the opportunity to do an MBA. And so I did that I went to Stanford. And so I was at Stanford in the mid 90s, which was just a fantastic time to be in Silicon Valley.

Dr. Mark Syms  4:01  

As the dynamic was going crazy right then, right? 

Dig Howitt  4:03  

It was it was right at the Netscape IPO. Yahoo was this a couple of guys on campus who were doing this interesting thing with the internet search was pre Google Amazon, right? But the fascinating time to do an MBA in the middle of Silicon Valley, the start of the tech boom. So with all that going on around me, when I got to the end of MBA, I chose to take a job in construction materials, submit concrete inquiries, and I look back now and think, which bit of the tech boom, did I not see? I went into very old industry, but I think the reason for doing is I did want to get into business. I wanted to get into business management. Again, I had thought maybe that would suit me. And I like practice and all that I wanted to be a company that made something. So I did that for four years. I ended up running my submit company, which I Let us know about leading a business and the challenges of business a really tough business. So it’s great.

Dr. Mark Syms  4:51  

That’s really hard, right?

Dig Howitt  5:10  

Yeah, yeah, yeah, toughened me up, which was good. But also, they thought this now by 2000, the tech boom was in full swing, I thought I need to do something higher tech, I guess. 30 plus years, it find me. And I like technology. Let’s go looking. And the great thing about coming out of the summit and concrete industry looking for higher tech is just about any industry, other industry qualifies. With no disrespect to people were made in concrete. And then a job with Cochlear came up in in r&d, managing engineers. And Cochlear was quite a much smaller company at that stage. Even in Australia wasn’t particularly well, no. I went along to the interview, and like the people, Jim Patrick was one of the people who interviewed me back then. And just taught this technology is passionate, I got the job, working in r&d. I did that for about 12 months, then an opportunity came up to run manufacturing. So I won’t move from this. Look, if you’ve been in a cement company, you can, you know, start thinking about a factory. We do the manufacturing and our rent, copiers, manufacturing, for just over 12 years of manufacturing in the global supply chain, it’s important.

Dr. Mark Syms  6:34  

We need to make it you need to get it places. So those are things are-

Dig Howitt  6:38  

It is in a great opportunity to get really close to the technology, the all of the new product development, all the r&d work. Then I moved into lead our Asia Pacific business for a few years. And that’s just amazingly diverse business with the country from Australia to India to Japan to China.

Dr. Mark Syms  6:59  

Delivered, right. Okay. Oh, yeah. All sorts of different ways.

Dig Howitt  7:03  

Yeah, yeah, some similarities, but also some real diversity and how those countries work. And the needs of the hearing are the same. But how the delivery, as you said, was quite good. And for there to be Chief Operating Officer and then CEO about three and a half years ago. So when I came to Cochlear, I’ll do this for a few years, we’ll be interesting. Yeah, that it was just just a couple of things, just that the impact that this technology has on people’s lives is unbelievable. And I look at it, and I cannot see a business that I would rather work with because of that impact. And it’s just fascinating technology and fascinating global challenges, too. So I’m 21 years in, I’m still learning every day, see how much more I still have to learn.

Dr. Mark Syms  7:51  

And many of your employees will stay because of the mission. Right? Yeah. People who kind of get into the hearing world for tech and never get out because they love what the company, you know, not I mean, not just what Cochlear does. But obviously, I come from a different direction. But I think it’s an awesome place to be in terms of taking care of patients. Well, that’s great. And so you know, as the CEO, like, what’s the best part of your day?

Dig Howitt  8:18  

Best bit of my day is, is talking talking to people who believe in the mission. And whether that’s people like you marketing or helping delivering the therapy, whether that’s our recipients who, whose life has changed, whether it’s a you know, parents of a child born with hearing loss to an older person who could hear for many, many years, and that lost their hearing, or to our employees who are just so engaged with their Bishop that that’s by far the most fun bit of my days when I get the chance to interact with people talk with them and hear their stories. And I have now I have a 4000 people report, he has more than 40 countries around the world now. 

Dr. Mark Syms  9:04  

That’s a big team.

Dig Howitt  9:06  

It’s a big thing. Yeah. Yeah. It’s been growing, which is great. It’s part of being successful is the out of the audit.

Dr. Mark Syms  9:12  

How many employees were there? 

Dig Howitt  9:14  

About 600? When I started, the company, is about 10 times as big in terms of the number of implants and revenue. Now about what’s said about eight times seven times as big in terms of the number of employees.

Dr. Mark Syms  9:28  

Well, hopefully make some changes. I mean, I’m not an expert of business, but hopefully the revenue grows faster than the number of employee has done over that period. Otherwise, I’m not sure you’re, you’re going in the right direction. But I that so. So so you know, you’ve seen a lot of advances. So over the time, you’ve been in the hearings, right? Like, what would you say are the biggest advances you’ve seen in cochlear implants over the 20 years? You? I mean, I’ll tell you, you know, I did my residency, and right when I was doing my otology fellowship was right when cochlear implants, were going to BTV I mean, the first behind the ear. Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of people don’t really like it wasn’t behind the ear the whole time. No, there were body processors. And so I know that that was a huge one. But But what are the other advances that you’ve seen me? Certainly getting your level? technology’s amazing.

Dig Howitt  10:15  

Yeah, that just as a, just before I joined, and yeah, amazing. There. Like I said, I think a few things that stand out. One is the connectivity that has happened in in the last five years, that now-

Dr. Mark Syms  10:35  

I’ll talk about your CI to your TV. 

Dig Howitt  10:38  

Yeah, so the ability to stream music, phone calls, strike through to the processor of the implant. I think amazing just for the flexibility, that convenience that that gives, but it’s the it’s the opportunity to the future of this connected technology, which I think is really exciting. It’s all of this connectivity enables care, the chronic phase of care to be delivered at home over time, and for people to be getting up to date data on how they’re performing. And if there’s any checkups that they need. So the power of the connectivity, which first comes through just streaming a telephone call podcast, the ability to use that.

Dr. Mark Syms  11:25  

But you mean upstream rather than downstream Connect. Yeah, right. So yeah. Going from the implant to so.

Dig Howitt  11:31  

Yes. Yeah. So that I think that’s why look, I think the the other one, which I think is, is really important, but is still emerging, is the understanding of the sort of electrode neural interface. And so I think with the with the slim body, or electrode electrode positioned very close to that neural interface, we’re learning a lot more about the interface, the power of getting that bright power of the right position.

Dr. Mark Syms  12:03  

Yeah, it’s fascinating in my time, how that was actually in the vernacular of cochlear implants 20 years ago. And then unfortunately, some of the issues with manage itis were upon us. And that all that all kind of got put on the back. It’s amazing that it got put on the back burner, it set it back 15 years. You know, it was it was a big topic, because it also has to do with battery consumption to right the distance from the determines battery consumption. 

Dig Howitt  12:31  

Yeah. And I think getting Yes, yeah, I think it’s taken a while and getting the design, right, getting the technology to actually understand that positioning. And that I think that’s very exciting. And we’re starting to see some of that now. There’s some other results. Yeah, a lot more to come.

Dr. Mark Syms  12:49  

The hard part is obviously, by the time you get the results, you’ve already moved the goalposts, right. So you’ve got results on a prior generation implant, you guys have already innovated in, offered a new processor or new implant or electrode or something like that.

Dig Howitt  13:06  

Yeah, it’s one of the features of this therapy is that the cycle times are pretty long, just as you said, you do something and then you study it for a number of years, several people and you learn a lot. And then you move further again, see, so we’ve got to participate. pretty sick, we’re going to see a move.

Dr. Mark Syms  13:26  

In my medical career, I liken it to premature babies, right, like so you really don’t know the outcome of a premature baby, let’s say till they’re cognitively and physiologically mature 20. By the time that happens, you’re prognosticating on 20 year old intervention. So you really never know what the outcome is. You can tell what the bottom is. But the top is not set. Right? Because things keep changing.

Dig Howitt  13:48  

Yeah, that’s a bit that’s actually a bit like bringing up children to do the best job you can, but it’s actually not for 20 elected feedback for 20 years.

Dr. Mark Syms  13:56  

Yeah, if then if you’re lucky. So you know, I, you know, we You and I both know, there are a lot of challenges in the cochlear implant space. So if you could make one go away, or one challenge change, what would that be like, you know?

Dig Howitt  14:11  

The single thing I love to change is that there are hundreds of 1000s of people getting hearing aids to put get would get a much better hearing outcome if they got a cochlear implant. I think that access the people with them, this post legal people, severe to profound loss to cochlear implants is a huge opportunity to really improve the lives of hundreds of 1000s.

Dr. Mark Syms  14:39  

Yeah, I think the whole hearing continuum is an issue right? In other words, you guys are perhaps further down on the continuum of loss, but even at the upper level, I mean, one of the people I talked to is doing a lot of research on mild hearing loss or you know, even a 15 to 20 Db hearing loss which is considered normal and the Functional measurements of impairment that they are measurements of impairment they have their so even what we consider normal actually is a norm. Yeah. Interesting. Interesting. 

Dig Howitt  15:09  

Yes, I suppose I could restate that. What would I change is that that hearing loss was actually treated like as a serious disease state?

Dr. Mark Syms  15:17  

Yeah, I think it’s coming. I mean, but it’s, you know, that’s actually one of the missions of the podcast is trying to get that word out. So, you know, speaking of like, what do you see is the things that can be done to increase awareness and access to see cochlear implantation or hearing technology in general, because you guys are part of a whole ecosystem of treatments. Right. And so you don’t get the other treatments? They’re not going to get yours likely.

Dig Howitt  15:39  

Yep. Yeah, no, that’s right. Look, I see, I think several sickness. Awareness is clearly one of the big, big issues and awareness comes in many forms. People typically don’t have awareness of the level of hearing loss they’ve got, yeah. If they do have awareness of the hearing loss, they often typically don’t regard it as a significant problem. It’s just something that happens when you age, you know, your ear goes gray or your hair falls out, your hearing deteriorates. Part of the aging process to get on with life. But start working to show that hearing loss actually has flow. problems. Hearing healthy hearing is really important part of healthy aging. And there’s a lot of research going in, it’s I think that’s a really important part of getting raising the profile of hearing loss over time that it’s definitely treatable.

Dr. Mark Syms  16:42  

Again, I, you know, I really have struggled how to communicate with patients. And so the analogy I use is, it’s like if you lost a leg, right, and so you’re an amputee. So one of your options is to hop up and down on one foot, right. And if you saw, somebody saw somebody going down the sidewalk, hopping up and down on one foot, they’d say, that’s crazy, go get an artificial leg, at least right? And so people who haven’t treated their hearing loss are doing the equivalent of hopping up and down on one foot, because they haven’t gone on rehabilitated deficit. And so and so people have to look at it as a deficit, not just a normal process of aging.

Dig Howitt  17:19  

Yeah, that’s right. And so that’s a good analogy, too, because you know, one foot, your disability and your other leg is working really hard. For me using a lot more, you got to concentrate harder on how you get around, it’s the same with hearing, you got to concentrate much harder to hear, the more your brain energy is getting absorbed in trying to hear versus do other things. So people were tired of the now I think that I think we’ll see over time. And that’s hypothesis, obviously. But the links between cognition and hearing loss, they’re pretty clear perspective, big play, and I suspect they’re quite causal. And there’s some studies going on to show that. 

Dr. Mark Syms  17:54  

Well, it’s fascinating, you know, when you look at medicine, so you know, medicine started treating high blood pressure in the 1980s. We did not have the definitive studies to show that treating high blood pressure, decreased cardiac morbidity and mortality kill the 70. But we did it. So it’s kind of interesting that people said, well, there’s not enough evidence. Well, we have enough anecdotal evidence, and there’s very little downside to treating hearing loss. So it’s kind of interesting to me that some people say, We need more studies. I don’t think we actually need more studies. We all know for Political Practices. Yeah.

Dig Howitt  18:26  

Yeah. Yeah. And as you said, it’s just insensible insurance. Yeah. Yeah. Well, that’s like the evidence and 20 years, 20, 20 years of hearing loss while you wait for the evidence. 

Dr. Mark Syms  18:36  

And well, but I think the real answer is go to the public, right? I mean, if they value, then it will happen. I mean, you know, it’s interesting, I was talking to a guy who’s an Alzheimer’s expert, and he called, he said, we’re finding that sensory deprivation is causing Alzheimer’s. Well, maybe it is sensory deprivation, but maybe it’s cognitive overload. Right. And so yeah, you know, the, he’s describing the measurable deficit, but that might not be the brain problem. The brain problem might be cognitive overload that you’re working.

Dig Howitt  19:05  

So I think, if we can, yeah, we got to get public. increased public awareness, preparing also the consequences of not trading. And then I think in the in, call the, deliver in the professional care, I think we’ve got to educate there too. And that’s particularly in the in the hearing aid channel. That, you know, covering plants, not routinely considered hearing our channel, people with severe profound loss. And I think we’re-

Dr. Mark Syms  19:37  

So weird. I think that’s education of our Yeah, and I think part back body to there, I think. Yeah, I think interestingly, one of the other things I’ll say is, you know, so there’s my dog. I hope somebody’s not breaking. But anyway, I wrote, you know, I wrote this book and people ask me all the time, is, is the book for patients or peers? And my answer Oh, right. Yeah, reason is because I think, you know, my peers need to learn more about hearing loss as well. And so, you know, there is an overall awareness problem. I mean, I think there are tons of peers of mine who are talking to patients who are markedly hearing impaired, and they don’t even realize.

Dig Howitt  20:17  

Yes, yeah, it’s just an interesting one on general practice, practitioners, that we know that one in three people over 65 will have a disabling hearing loss. But very few firstline. Doctors will actually check that the person sitting up and can hear them,

Dr. Mark Syms  20:39  

They do well, I can play it really speaks to that cognitive correction, right? speech reading, contextual ability to compensate. And that’s why I say to people, there’s a difference between hearing and communicate. 

Dig Howitt  20:51  

Yes, absolutely. Yeah. 

Dr. Mark Syms  20:53  

So tell me about, you know, you’ve traveled in Pacific and Asia. So there’s a different delivery market? What are some of the challenges facing them that we don’t see, for instance, in the United States, like, so it must be totally different or ways they approach delivering. So what are the challenges in that context?

Dig Howitt  21:09  

Yeah, so some some, some level of challenges. Awareness is an issue absolutely everywhere. In other countries, though, and certainly some of the emerging countries, just the availability of professional skills. Yeah, is definitely a constraint. Now we do a lot of work on surgical training to help idea of course, yeah, yeah, thank you. For doing that they found fun to do and just so important. But then also, there’s not the audiology, infrastructure, or the therapy children, which most of these emerging markets are about children, not adults. 95% of its children, the therapy either. So there’s a lot of work to do to build out the infrastructure and education, in a sense, and in some countries, audiology hasn’t been seen as a profession until quite recently. So in some of these countries, they now had to have University audiology courses for 15 years. I didn’t.

Dr. Mark Syms  22:16  

Yeah, well, I mean, you know, not not again, I think hearing loss is really important. But I guess to some extent, you know, it’s, it’s a luxury relative to, you know, basically, you know, housing, food, other struggles that occur in some of those environments.

Dig Howitt  22:32  

Yeah, but what we’ve seen over time is that that’s changed. So we’ve been in some of these countries sits since the early 1990s. And certainly see as the wealth, economies drive, wealth develops, as healthcare system develops, if mortality falls, then things like hearing, start becoming children start to become important. And particularly now, the growing importance of education, for economic success. Development is is very well understood.

Dr. Mark Syms  23:07  

And markets are growing fast. I mean, because that’s actually an interesting because the market development.

Dig Howitt  23:14  

So China is growing very quickly and has for a long time, up until COVID-19. India was growing very strongly. It’s slowed up with all the things we’ve read about India in the last 30 months. Egypt is as a country where there’s enormous, quite high birth rate young population, really growing. So it’s, you know, we’ve seen over the last 20 years, just growth across Asia Pacific expansion through the Middle East, into Northern Africa. That’s out now as well. So it’s Yeah, look, it’s really exciting time and we’ve got now our recipients in over 190 countries around the world. Yeah, certainly. continues to change and grow and, and challenge us.

Dr. Mark Syms  24:01  

Yeah. Why? Because you have to deliver it everywhere. So so you know, what I would tell you is for the time I’ve been in cochlear implant field, they’ve always people always talk about a total implantable. Right, yeah, I know. There have been some different attempts or different models and stuff. Where do you see that? I mean, it’s what I mean, I will tell you a large number of recipients say hey, when’s it going to be totally implantable? Yeah, yeah. You don’t have to tell me by but you know, I know there are certain challenges.

Dig Howitt  24:25  

Yeah, like I can, I can. I can certainly talk about it, too. We have a feasibility study going on right now. For the total implantable cochlear implant, I think out of that study, and we’re still waiting the results, but I think what we’ll see is that it’s technologically possible to have a third implantable cochlear implant, it’s certainly complicated. technology. So the microphone, there’s a couple of options for the microphone, but with what we’ve got at the moment is one that sits back just behind the ear, under the skin behind Okay, so you want to try and get it as close to the air as possible as we can. 

Dr. Mark Syms  25:05  

And away from hair, right? 

Dig Howitt  25:06  

Yeah. Yeah. So yeah. So one of the important parts of this is pretty sophisticated noise cancelling. To eliminate or just noise appear, but actually body not the inside of your body is very noisy. Yeah. So this is breathing, swallowing pulse. All of these things so well, I think it’s definitely technologically possible. I think we will definitely see totally implantable when in the market. Now. We know in medical devices from technologically possible to on the market takes time. You’ve got to do regulatory work done. broader clinical studies, reimbursement work. So it’s it’s a-

Dr. Mark Syms  25:55  

Runaway tomorrow?

Dig Howitt  25:56  

Yeah, it’s definitely a longer run by that tomorrow. But I think you know, it will, it will happen. And then we’ll see how the market except how the market except Yeah,

Dr. Mark Syms  26:09  

I mean, one of the big things I always tell patients is, you know, probably the biggest thing that’s helped cochlear implants is cell phone. Right? Because the battery technology, all of that speaker, technology, wireless transmission, all of that technology. I mean, food bearing plants are great. And there’s a lot of investment, but there’s not enough resources in the industry to develop itself. So getting that technology.

Dig Howitt  26:33  

Yeah, that’s absolutely right there. But now, now, row width in our D is to do some technology development, but very much to be a technology integrator. And I said, Yes, he said, taking battery technology, taking some of the material science from other industries, you gotta put these things together in a way that improves, hearing proves cochlear implants 

Dr. Mark Syms  26:56  

Does amazing stuff, right? 

Dig Howitt  26:58  


Dr. Mark Syms  26:59  

So tell me like, you know, where do you see cochlear implants, like 5 10 25 years? Like, you know, you’ve been around long enough? Like, what’s your crystal ball? I mean, it’s as good as any. So?

Dig Howitt  27:10  

Yeah, like, I feel like it’s hard to predict into the future. Like, I think in five years, what we’ll see is really the power of the connectivity in our current system. So the ability to transfer data sound back and forth from a smartphone, to the to the implant, I think we’ll really start to see the value in that both from the ability for the hearing care just to be much more convenient, that sort of hearing to be much more compact, more seamless, we make it the better, the less, they have to think about it, which is what they want to eat. But then we’re also able to start to provide I think, some of the care remotely be able to monitor the performance of the whole system, and essentially how the person’s hearing, be able to provide tips and advice on how to do better, or essentially, you should come back into the clinic, because it’s something that we should we should look at. So I think that hopefully give people convenience, confidence, and advice on how they can do even better. I think that’s sort of the five year.

Dr. Mark Syms  28:20  

Yeah, I mean, I guess mica, you know, I look at it like parenting, right, the the technical side of parenting where you’re, you know, getting your kids to, you know, wash behind their ears and stuff. It’s challenging, but the harder part is the psychosocial part, right, getting it. Yeah. And so that’s where I see the challenge, right? Obviously, that connectivity doesn’t take care of that part. But there are other tools that will hopefully take care of that or work on that.

Dig Howitt  28:44  

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And then I think if you look over 10 years, I think what we’ll see there is that smarter implants, come onto the market that enable, provide even more feedback on the hearing, potentially more personalized care. 

Dr. Mark Syms  29:01  

So do you mean the processor or the implant implant? 

Dig Howitt  29:05  

I think you have a 10 year horizon to see putting an implant that has more processing power, has the ability to sense more of what’s going on from a hearing.

Dr. Mark Syms  29:20  

So you mean like resistance and things like that? Yeah, yeah.

Dig Howitt  29:23  

Yeah. And again, just being able to determine, you know, what, we know that that sort of the electronic yearly devices really important, it depends on the quality. One of the things depends on is quality that year by device.

Dr. Mark Syms  29:36  

So it’s picked up back into operatively, that you’re getting better?

Dig Howitt  29:41  

I think so nice and equally over time. Well, so i think i think that’s exciting. Yeah, but 10 years is, is sky but-

Dr. Mark Syms  29:48  

The 10 years ago, people were talking about drug eluting implants, which I think had some cachet, but you know, I. Now I can’t tell you I’m on top of every piece of literature, but It seems that it’s lost some of its glare.

Dig Howitt  30:03  

Yeah, I think there’s potential there. The drags on the electronics. 

Dr. Mark Syms  30:09  

But I don’t think it’s long term. sustainable. 

Dig Howitt  30:11  

Yeah. But it’s been. Yeah, it’s a long term thing. And so there’s some opportunity there. But yes, that’s still more than that. Yeah, the 25.

Dr. Mark Syms  30:21  

Everybody had the right prediction, right. Because I know with a lot of my colleagues, we think all the stuff we do makes a difference. I’m not sure we can demonstrate it measurably make a difference. We try to make a difference but measurably is a different story. 

Dig Howitt  30:32  

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, like a hype over that 10 year period, we get better at actually measuring how well we’re doing, how better ways of actually measuring how people are their experience, which is part their hearing, but the quality and content of the sound, it’s how well the music thing heard, that it’s able to measure those things. Over time, I think that’d be over 25 years. That’s a really tough. I think it’s very hard to say, yeah.

Dr. Mark Syms  31:01  

Yeah, no, I Well, hopefully, the real answer, the 25 year answer might be penetration, right, that that there’s not, you know, I mean, to me, one of the reasons I do this, is when you start looking at the numbers in the United States, at least, the incidence of people becoming cochlear implant candidates is greater than the incidence of implanted. Meaning Yes, that’s right. Yep. So So if not, not that people are not but if that were HIV, or COVID, all that an epidemic or a pandemic, right. And but yes, the way that people have contextualize this, people don’t really think of it in that terms, but you know, any disease that is, it has a treat at times. But it’s being less treated as a as a public health problem that hopefully.

Dig Howitt  31:50  

Yeah, and actually, the World Health Organization has started to call this out. That recognizing that hearing loss is one of the most prevalent medical conditions, one of the least treated, right, and it’s any two rapidly growing problems as societies age.

Dr. Mark Syms  32:07  

And certainly that Lancet, Work Study Group, they talked about it being the most modifiable factor to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia was very profound.

Dig Howitt  32:17  

Yes, yeah. Yeah. And I think that’s, you know, I talked about the technology over that five and 10 years, but I think we will, we will see an increasing amount of evidence on these links between hearing awesome technician and healthy aging emerging AV over the next five years that I think and hope will provide people with a much more compelling reason to treat hearing loss as a serious and treatable medical condition.

Dr. Mark Syms  32:43  

Yeah, I would say so in my in my space. You know, it’s interesting, we do cochlear implants, but I’m not sure we’re as good advocates for hearing loss as we should.

Dig Howitt  32:53  

Yeah, yeah. Because interesting observation. We can all do more to advocate. 

Dr. Mark Syms  32:59  

But we could do we should be leading that charge. I mean, but you know, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll write a book about it. So yeah, you know, everything. I mean, really, I wrote the book because I wanted people to know about this problem, and that it’s not well treated. So you know, one question I looked at as a rule, you know, we’re in the sound business or the sound field one, what’s your favorite sound?

Dig Howitt  33:24  

For me, that favorite sound is waves breaking from the beach as much? Because the association with the family holidays. So yeah, just bring bring it back memories. 

Dr. Mark Syms  33:38  

Are you surfer?

Dig Howitt  33:40  

Body surfer? Let’s definitely enjoy getting in the sea. 

Dr. Mark Syms  33:47  

You guys are all in lockdown on Australia that the beach is probably one of the best out if you’re allowed to go.

Dig Howitt  33:52  

Yeah, it’s gang, gang body surfing, or swimming in the sea counts as exercise and we are allowed to leave to exercise.

Dr. Mark Syms  34:02  

This has been a great conversation. I really appreciate it. You know, today we’ve got Dig Howitt. He’s the CEO of Cochlear. If people want to get a hold of you, where do they get to get all the I assume on your company website or what?

Dig Howitt  34:13  

Yes., all sorts of information there on hearing loss and our products and our company overall. And maximally terrific to be able to join you in this conversation. I’ve enjoyed that.

Dr. Mark Syms  34:27  

Thank you so much. I really appreciate you coming on today. 

Dig Howitt  34:30  

Thank you very much. Great to see you. 

Outro  34:35

Thanks for tuning in to the ListenUp! podcast. We’ll see you again next time and be sure to click subscribe to get updates on future episodes.

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